Saturday, September 3, 2011

Judgement and The Gym


Several days a week I head to the gym. I played sports growing up football, basketball, and baseball. I always enjoyed fitness and the competition. These days, the competition is typically against myself, whether it is lifting weights, running, or working out my salvation with fear and trembling. The gym has been an interesting place over the years. I have had many amazing conversations about the gospel, about love, suffering, mercy, and today annulments.

Today while I was running on the treadmill, I was running next too a long time friend. We have known each other since high school. Usually when I see her I we take a couple of minutes to catch up. She is pretty aware of my uber Catholic mentality and we rarely talk about the faith. Not because I do not desire to, rather, the few times I have broached the subject it hasn't played well. I realized early on that any conversation would likely need to be on her terms. As I have grown in my own faith, God has given me the grace to evangelize with greater care for others, I still have those police flashback moments. Generally, however, I try to be a better listener. I try not to always force upon people what I think they need, rather to discern where they are at and to give them what they can handle. That is not code for withholding the truth, it is straight talk for, telling the truth with greater charity and concern for the other person. I am never one to avoid honesty and today when I was asked whether someone who is divorced and has not had their marriage annulled should receive communion, I responded by saying no they should not.

Something interesting came of the conversation. Yes, we talked about annulments, but, because I was listening I picked up on something else. Something I feel was more important. A possible cause for her indifference to the faith. As I listened to her, I thought about my own life of indifference and my own witness to charity and truth when I speak with people today. I have no problem with truth. Oh boy, truth is easy. I have learned alot, and I have been blessed to remember a good bit of what I have learned. It is twirling around in my melon at all times waiting to unleash itself on some unsuspecting lukewarm victim. What I often struggle with is listening and responding in charity. Remembering that I myself was a lukewarm, unsuspecting, victim, not all that long ago. 

As she spoke, I was listening to her talk about her mom and how catholic she was. She used the word judgement several times. I could tell that, it was hard. It made me think about my mom and myself, I am my mothers son. My mother can give you the truth and so can I. Sometimes, though it's just the truth. Frankly that isn't enough.  Religion can be a strange thing we are often drawn to it or repelled from it by the witness of others. Though it has a spiritual or supernatural dimension, and is rooted in the eternal truth of God, not everyone maintains a good spiritual life or witness to that truth. Truth rooted in God who is immutable and truth Himself, is also rooted in God who is the fullness of merciful love. He is the God who never tires of running out to meet us after we have fallen. He sends the Holy Spirit to gently confirm our conscience and call us to repentance. Apart from this gentle whisper, our witness to others can be more like a clanging cymbal or resounding gong therefore, often more repulsive than attractive.

I was reminded today of the Prodigal Son. Most of us know the parable. There was a man who had two sons. The younger of the two, pressed the father for his inheritance even before his fathers death. The mere question itself was unheard of and a cause for shame (Sir 33:23). The father generous with his love gives the younger son, his inheritance in spite of the dishonorable way in which he asked for it. To show his gratitude, the son takes his inheritance leaves the family for another land and "squanders his property in loose living" (Lk. 15: 13). Loose living translated into our modern way of thinking could be something like, sex outside of marriage, prostitution, gambling, pornography, same sex marriage, power, alcohol, drugs, material things, essentially the unbridled feeding of our passions. What was the inheritance? The grace of God. Mercy for our sins, eternal life in the fullness of God who is love. An inheritance isn't something we earn, it is a gift for being a part of the family. Every single human being exists because God has called him into existence. God continues to call each of us to immerse ourselves in His supernatural family of life giving love. It is something that we cannot merit but that God has given us access to through the Eucharist for no other reason than His unbridled love for us.

After squandering his inheritance, or rejecting the unearned gift of love from his father, he finds himself alone and with nothing. How many people today, find themselves spiritually empty? Without, genuine love in their hearts? Unable to feel an authentic, joyful love for others? Separated from their families and isolated from genuine self giving love for each other?  This is the product of wandering away from God. God unites in love, it is Satan who leads us to sin and separates us from mutual self giving love.  If love is a gift which we are free to choose, than we are free to reject it through sin and "loose living." Time and time again, when we make free will choices which are not in accord with the will of God and the truth about love, we become less free to love. Our hearts become more and more enslaved to sin. We lose our joy, because joy is a part of our inheritance. Joy is a product of remaining close to the Father and maintaining our familial bond with Him through the gift of His love. We forget, as did the prodigal son our own dignity. We begin to think that we are no longer sons and daughters of the Father whom gave us everything and holds us in being.  For many it doesn't even seem as if a return is possible.  The heavy burden of a life marked by lose living and the rejection of the Fathers love weigh them down and keep them from returning to the Father. 

The Prodigal Son, moved to return home, confess his sin, and beg for only the smallest morsel of food and shelter chooses to change course and seek the Father's mercy. He says in fact:
"I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, Father I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants" (Lk. 15: 18).  In confessing his unworthiness in all humility we find two things. First, the son lost a sense of his dignity as a son of the Father. Second, the amazing truth about God. He never tires of coming out to meet us. As the Prodigal Son approaches his fathers house (the church/confession), still off at a distance the father, "saw him had compassion, and ran and embraced him.."(Lk. 15: 20). He did not sit in judgement on his son's sincere repentance and return to him. He did not stand tapping his foot with his arms crossed waiting for the son to reach him. He rejoiced at his return, he ran out to meet him, and showered him with mercy. For nothing? No. The son made an act of repentance and in sorrow for squandering his life and the gift of his inheritance (grace, mercy, and love of God) on loose living (choosing to sin against that gift therefore rejecting it), he sought to return in the smallest way to the family. The Father's response? Complete and total acceptance, mercy beyond measure, and the restoration of the sons dignity. The son is given the best robe, a ring for his finger(Robe and ring are symbols of honor and authority see Gn 33:4), shoes for his feet(household slaves normally went barefoot. The father refuses this for his own son. Full re-instatement to the family is the only acceptable solution) and the fatted calf is killed. There is joy! 
"For my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found" (Lk. 15: 24).

The moral of this parable is pretty simple. God is a lover! He desires that his sons and daughters remain close to him and it breaks his heart when we choose not to. Regardless, of how far off we may run with our inheritance or how long we may reject the supernatural family of God. Separation from God is separation from His grace, and a life spent on loose living always ends with an inability to understand recognize our own dignity as sons and daughters of the Father. Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit, continues to gently call us back to the Father. We should take into consideration all of those times when we have squandered our inheritance on loose living when we encounter others who seem far off in another country. God gives us those moments with each other so that we might be compelling witnesses to his love and mercy. We should like the Father, run out to meet our brothers and sisters when they have fallen or are struggling with some truth of the faith and in charity and truth, bring them back home. Not everyone has developed the humility to come home yet, but this is why we must listen, some are ready, some are open, and some are truly searching.  We are called to be the witness to the Fathers love not the older brothers Pharisaical rejection of repentance and restoration of the fallen away, to their rightful place in the abode of the Father. 
I leave you with this from the Second Vatican Council:
"The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God. This invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being. For if man exists, it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator."
Pray for me. Pray for those who are searching for truth and charity. Pray for those who have fallen away. Pray for those who have repelled them. 

No comments:

Post a Comment